Here is the news story: Clerk defies U.S. high court, denies gay marriage licenses. A county clerk in Kentucky is refusing to issue any marriage licenses to any couple, so as not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She cites her conscience and religious beliefs, against gay marriage, as the basis for her decision. She also prohibits her staff from issuing the licenses.
“Citing her religious objections, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the Supreme Court in June ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the U.S. Constitution. On Monday the same court rejected Davis’ request for an emergency order allowing her to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples while she appeals a federal judge’s order requiring her to issue them.”
Subsequent to the publication of the above-quoted news story, the court has jailed Kim Davis and ordered her staff to issue marriage licenses. The staff have complied.
“In his Aug. 12 opinion, U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning said the state was not asking Davis to condone same-sex unions on religious grounds. He said she was “simply being asked to signify that couples meet the legal requirements to marry.”
Does Kim Davis have any moral or religious basis for refusing to issue marriage licenses? In my theological opinion, from a Catholic point of view, she does not, for several reasons.
Same-sex marriage is legal, and the role of county clerk includes issuing marriage licenses. The issuance of a marriage license to any couple by the clerk does not imply that the clerk approves of the union. She does not sin by issuing a license to a same-sex couple, since she has no authority to decide the question of legality, nor to defy the law and courts. And she is not giving her personal approval to any couples who receive a marriage license. The license only indicates that the union is a legal marriage; it does not indicate, for any couple, that the union is a religious marriage.
In the past, did she deny a marriage license to non-Christian couples (atheists, Jews, Muslims, others) on the basis of her belief that those marriages are not a valid Sacrament? If she had done so, it would have become public knowledge. In the past, did she interview each Christian couple, to make certain that they are not remarrying after divorce or were otherwise unfit for marriage? No, she did not. So if it is moral for her to issue a legal license to marry to other couples, without regard for her religious beliefs about marriage, then it is also moral in the case of same-sex marriages.
Kim Davis is a Protestant, and Apostolic Christian. She has been divorced three times and married four times (twice to the same man). She had a conversion experience a few years ago, after the death of her mother-in-law. More here.
Divorce and remarriage is against the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. So it is ironic that she denies marriage licenses to those whose marriages contradict the Gospel teaching, while her own past marriages also contradict Gospel teaching. It is also indefensible that she denies marriage licenses to heterosexual couples. Her position would be more consistent if she only denied licenses to same-sex couples. It is unconscionable for her to deny licenses to couples whose marriages are in accord with Gospel teaching. So her position is not only a misunderstanding of her moral responsibility, but also hypocritical.
My belief as a Catholic is that same-sex marriages are not a true type of natural marriage, nor a true Sacrament of marriage. However, same-sex marriage is currently legal in the United States. And it would be immoral, in the present circumstance, for Catholics or Christians to unlawfully impede same-sex couples from following the law and their own conscience. A Catholic with a good understanding of the moral law is not thereby given the authority from God to impose his or her conscience on others.
County clerks and other government employees who must issue marriage licenses as part of their job requirements can do so without sin, since they do not have the authority to decide the question and the marriages are in fact legal marriages. If they find themselves unable to do so in good conscience — I would say due to a sincere but mistaken conscience — then they should resign their job.
We Christians are not authorized by Christ to force others to believe what we believe, nor to force them to comply with our beliefs contrary to their own beliefs and good will.
I strongly disagree with the position stated by presidential candidate Ted Cruz (found on his website here)
“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America.
“I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally. I stand with every American that the Obama Administration is trying to force to choose between honoring his or her faith or complying with a lawless court opinion.”
The recent Supreme Court opinion, approving gay marriage, is contrary to Christian teaching on marriage and on morality. However, it is the law of the land, and not “a lawless court opinion”. It is a mistake made in good conscience by many voters and politicians. A mistaken court opinion is not “judicial tyranny” or “judicial lawlessness”.
Kim Davis was not jailed for “living according to her faith”. She was jailed for refusing to do her sworn duty as a county clerk, for refusing to issue marriage licenses to any and all persons. That license does not constitute a natural marriage, nor a Sacrament of marriage. It only indicates that the union is a legal marriage, which it factually is.
I don’t think bakers would sin if they made a cake for a gay marriage. But I also think that bakers should not be forced to act against their sincere but mistaken conscience. The situation is different for a county clerk. A couple can find a different baker to make a cake for them. The county clerk refused to issues marriage licenses to all couples, and forbid her staff to do so, preventing many persons living in that county from marrying. She has no moral or legal ground to stand on. If she cannot fulfill her duties due to her sincere but mistaken conscience, then she should resign or be fired.
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